By John Boyle Herald Writer
TUKWILA — Sounders FC received good news on injured forward Eddie Johnson following an MRI Monday, or at least as good as could be expected after the team’s leading scorer left Sunday’s regular-season finale with a hamstring injury.
Johnson has what Sounders FC coach Sigi Schmid called a “slight tweak” and while Johnson may not be available for Friday’s playoff opener against Real Salt Lake, he should be able to play in the Nov. 8 second leg of the playoff series.
“It’s not nearly as bad as we initially thought,” Schmidt said. “We wanted to go easy with him today, then we’ll see where he’s at tomorrow. … There’s an outside chance on Friday and for sure the second game shouldn’t be a problem.”
Johnson, who returned to Major League Soccer this season after a mostly unsuccessful tenure in Europe, has been one of Sounder FC’s best players, scoring a team-high 14 goals and providing hope that this team is better equipped to make a playoff run than were the Sounders teams that were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs in each of the previous three seasons.
Seattle has numerous options if Johnson doesn’t play Friday. Sammy Ochoa, who came in for Johnson in Sunday’s game, is an option at forward, as is David Estrada, who was a starter early in the season while Johnson battled injuries, but who missed a good portion of the season with a foot injury. Steve Zakuani, who primarily plays as a left winger, has experience at forward, as does midfielder Mauro Rosales.
“We’ll see,” Schmid said. “We’ll see what we think is best. We’ll take a good look at our past games Ochoa has played. … (Estrada) is certainly an option who can play there. Zakuani is somebody who is now back in the mix, he’s played up front before, so I think we’ve got three options. Even Rosales can push up high if we need him to.”
Ochoa, who joined Seattle late last season, has not seen the playing time he would have hoped for this year — largely because of the addition of Johnson — but has played a big role in U.S. Open Cup and CONCACAF Champions League play. Ochoa has started just three MLS games and appeared in nine, and has one goal in league play, In all competitions he has eight goals, third-best on the team. If his number is called Friday, Ochoa said he’ll be ready.
“I’ve been waiting for that opportunity …,” he said. “It’s hard for everybody if they’re not playing. Then a game like this comes up and you get a chance to play, you can’t get more pumped than this.”
If Johnson is unable to play Friday, this won’t be the first time Seattle heads into the playoffs minus a key player because of a late-season injury. Last year, Rosales injured his knee in the final game of the regular season, and after being one of Sounders FC’s most important players in his first year in Seattle, he could only watch as his team was eliminated in the opening round.
“The guys that are healthy to play are the guys that are going to play,” Schmid said. “Last year, certainly we missed Mauro, and if Eddie can’t play, we’ll miss him, but other guys have to step up and do the business.”
The injury news was even better for defender Jeff Parke, who also was pulled out of Sunday’s game after experiencing tightness in his hamstring.
“Parke was just a precaution,” Schmid said. “He’s fine.”
Parke was brief and emphatic when asked about the injury.
“I’m playing,” he said. “I’m not worried about it.”
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.